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Sight Magazine – Essay: Why absurd stories about the pope’s resignation keep cropping up

United States

If I had a dollar for every story I saw about the pope possibly stepping down, I could take a trip to Rome to see the pope in action.

Why are these stories so popular with journalists?

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair to attend an audience with nuns and religious superiors in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on May 5. The pope is known to suffer from severe knee pain which has severely reduced his mobility in recent months. PHOTO: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino/File Photo.

First of all, the stories are easy to write: just report the latest whispers of anonymous Roman clergymen who have no real information but love to gossip. Add quotes from Italian journalists whose editors are not as rigorous in demanding evidence as American editors. Presto!

There are of course good Italian journalists, but some lack basic journalistic ethics. John Thavis, the former bureau chief of the Catholic News Service, reported how an Italian journalist in 2013 decided to have fun writing a totally fictionalized story about how cardinals viewed Cardinal Sean O’Malley as a candidate. to the pope.

“If the pope resigns, I will end up looking like a fool for writing this column. Yet, I am ready to take risks and say it: the pope will not resign.”

This story was picked up by other outlets, causing The Boston Globe to send a team of reporters to cover the conclave. Media coverage made O’Malley so visible that an investigation found him to be the first choice of ordinary people in Rome. In his Capuchin habit, he reminded them of Padre Pio, the popular Italian saint.

A second reason these stories proliferate is because ordinary readers eat them. We have an appetite for rumors and gossip about famous people. Publishers know this and give us what we want.

Finally, every reporter is terrified of missing a story that ends up being true. Most journalists have missed the signs of Pope Benedict XVI’s impending resignation, and they don’t want to be caught off guard again. How do you explain to your editor why you missed this story?

If the pope resigns, I will end up looking like a fool for writing this column.

However, I am ready to take risks and say it: the pope will not resign.

It is true that the resignation of Benedict XVI facilitated the resignation of all subsequent popes. This has always been possible under canon law – in fact, historians report that around 10 popes have resigned in the church’s 2,000 year history. It had been so long since the last resignation that many thought it was impossible.

Pope Paul VI, for example, said that fatherhood cannot be resigned. He also feared setting a precedent that would pressure future popes to resign. Do we see that today?

What made resignation not only possible but necessary was modern medicine, which can keep the body alive much longer than is physically and mentally possible for a person to function as pope.

Even before resigning, Benedict XVI said: “If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of assuming the functions of his office, then he has the right and, in certain circumstances , also the obligation to resign. ”

Francis shares the same opinion. He feels that his election was a clear sign that God wanted him to be pope and he cannot rescind that duty unless he becomes incapable of fulfilling his papal obligations.

As Francis recently told Brazilian bishops visiting the Vatican, “I want to live my mission as long as God allows me and that’s it.”


The pope has a lot of unfinished business, and I don’t see him walking away from it. Some of his reforms are just beginning. And having set in motion a worldwide synodal process, he will not leave it up to anyone else to finish.

Clearly, the pope is currently able to fulfill the most important functions of the papacy. Yes, he has knee pain and uses a wheelchair, but there is no indication that he suffers from any mental incapacity. He can think and speak clearly, he meets people and can make careful decisions.

Pope Francis has been suffering from knee pain for some time, but he refused to use a cane despite being in great pain. It was stupid of him. Everyone around him should have told him to use a cane. Instead, he continued to walk on his bad knee until he was forced into a wheelchair.

Had he still been subject to Jesuit obedience, his Jesuit superior and prefect of health would have told him to follow his doctor’s instructions and use a cane. Whether staying off the knee will now allow it to heal on its own or require surgery remains to be seen.

What is clear is that even if he were to remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he could still perform his essential papal duties as long as his mind remained clear. Remember, the United States had a president in a wheelchair who pulled us out of the Great Depression and led us through World War II.

To insinuate that the pope cannot continue his work in his current state today shows that even the pope is not immune to the prejudices suffered by thousands of disabled people daily.

There are thousands of Americans in wheelchairs who do very well in their jobs. Thousands more have knee pain. To say that the pope should resign is to tell all these people that their positions are also in danger. Shouldn’t we instead celebrate that there are many jobs these people can successfully do, including being pope?

The Reverend Thomas J Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a senior analyst at the RNS.

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